The strongest tropical cyclone to hit India in 20 years made landfall Friday, killing two people and lashing the country’s east coast with ferocious winds and torrential downpours.
Tropical Cyclone Fani struck near the city of Puri, in Odisha state, as the equivalent of a Category 4 hurricane — packing sustained winds of 240 kilometers per hour (150 miles per hour). The storm is expected to weaken as it moves north-northeast in the next six hours toward Kolkata, one of India’s most populous cities, and Bangladesh.
The two people who died in Odisha were killed by falling trees, police spokesman Sanjeev Panda said.
Fani made landfall as the strongest cyclone to hit the region since a 1999 storm killed at least 10,000 people. That incident prompted India to reassess its disaster management planning.
More than 1 million people were evacuated ahead of Fani, Odisha’s chief minister said in a tweet. About 10,000 villages and 52 towns in nine districts in the state were in the storm’s path, forecasters said. Eleven districts along the Odisha coast were placed on red alert, and some 900 cyclone shelters were set up to house evacuees.
Meteorologists say storm surges remain a risk as Fani is hitting low-lying coastal regions.
Aid agencies are also concerned for hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees who fled ethnic violence in Myanmar and are living in refugee camps in Bangladesh near the coast.
All flights to and from Odisha’s Bhubaneswar airport were canceled from midnight on Thursday. Kolkata’s airport canceled flights from 3 p.m. local time Friday.
As Fani was classified as an “extremely severe cyclonic storm” in India, the country’s coast guard and navy deployed ships and helicopters for relief and rescue operations. Army and air force units are also on standby in the states of Odisha, West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh.
The storm is the first tropical cyclone of the year in the northern Indian Ocean. The country’s cyclone season has two main periods of activity: late April to early June, and October to November.
These two periods are before and immediately after India’s southwest monsoon season, which lasts from June through September and provides India with the vast majority of its annual rainfall.